5 Creative Meeting Breaks

'Break' the mold with these innovative alternatives to the traditional coffee break

Shrub Darcy Hotel

By definition, a break is a gap. A hiatus. An interruption. It's not the main attraction, but a pause in the middle of it. It therefore makes perfect sense that meeting professionals spend most of their time and energy planning their meetings' content, not the breaks in between.

And yet, it's a mistake to treat breaks as an afterthought. Because even though attendees come for content, what keeps them coming back are memorable and engaging experiences -- which thoughtful meeting planners can easily engineer in the space between keynotes and breakout sessions. All it takes is a few creative ideas. Here are five, each of which demonstrates how meeting planners can turn routine gaps in a meeting into strategic opportunities to enhance it.

Mixology Breaks
Meeting attendees no longer want to be passive audience members. Instead, they want to be active participants. That desire extends to meeting breaks, too. Instead of having refreshments served to them, attendees often want to have a hand in making them. For that reason, mixology is ideally suited to groups.

For a unique -- and non-alcoholic -- spin on it, check out The Darcy in Washington, D.C., which offers a special beverage break in partnership (pictured) with Charlie Berkinshaw, founder of Element [Shrub], a local company that makes "drinking vinegars" known as "shrubs." Dating back to the 15th century, shrubs are slightly acidic drinks made from vinegar, sweetener, and fruit juice. During shrub-themed meeting breaks, Berkinshaw tends a seltzer bar where guests can mix their own flavored seltzer water using the shrub of their choice. Flavors include chai pear, cranberry hibiscus, and blood orange saffron, just to name a few. It's a unique, interactive, and personal take on the standard beverage break.

Picnic Breaks
When they spend days at a time in ballrooms and breakout rooms, attendees itch for a chance to break free and get outside. So instead of a traditional buffet, banquet, or boxed lunch, why not offer a picnic?

The Grand Hotel Minneapolis offers an especially unique one for small groups. Called "Pedal + Picnic with Chef Kris," it was conceived by Chef Kris Koch, who guides meeting attendees on an 11-mile morning bike tour of his favorite sites in Minneapolis, such as the recently renovated Walker Art Center's Sculpture Garden, the Mill City Farmers Market, the Isles Bun Coffee Shop, and the Lake of the Isles. The hotel furnishes bikes, and Koch tailors the duration and intensity of the excursion to participants' preferences. The highlight: a picnic lunch prepared by Koch himself. It's the perfect bonding break to get groups outside in the middle of an extended indoor conference.

Teambuilding Breaks
The best chefs use every part of an ingredient when they cook it. When they prepare broccoli, for instance, they don't just use the florets; they also use the stalks. When they cook beef, they don't just use the meat; they also utilize the bones and organs. The best meeting planners do the same thing. When they host a meeting, they make the most of every part. Teambuilding breaks are ideally suited to that philosophy because they do double duty: Not only do attendees get to take a break from the main meeting, but they also get to partake in a productive activity that yields positive benefits for the group.

For a special take on teambuilding, consider the Positive Empowerment Session at Jamaica's Half Moon resort. Led by Trina Delisser, founder of the Half Moon Equestrian Centre, it teaches attendees how to earn the trust of horses by using positive body language, which they also can use to facilitate better relationships and communications with clients and colleagues. Or, check out the Pullman Miami Airport Hotel, which offers an airline-inspired teambuilding activity in partnership with local flight schools. During it, flight instructors teach groups the basics of how to fly a jet -- and of how to land one safely in an emergency situation, which takes collaboration, communication, and coordination that attendees get to practice together in B738 airliner and Cessna 172 simulators.

Spa Breaks
Meeting planners who want to literally give attendees a break should consider spa-themed breaks, which are designed to help attendees relax and recharge during marathon meetings.

One place that does spa breaks especially well is Jamaica's Jewel Grand Montego Bay Resort & Spa, home to the Caribbean's first and only Himalayan salt therapy lounge -- which can host groups of up to 12 meeting attendees at a time for relaxing and detoxifying salt therapy sessions in a room that's clad from floor to ceiling in pink and white Himalayan salt blocks. Or, consider a REVIV IV therapy break from Arizona's Well & Being at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. During this unique meeting break, attendees receive safe IV infusions and nutrient boosters whose wellness benefits last for multiple days, leaving meeting participants feeling refreshed, recharged, and ready to brainstorm.

Fitness Breaks
Some people like to recharge in the middle of a meeting by relaxing. Others prefer the opposite: physical exercise, which gets the blood pumping in a way that primes them for the rest of the meeting ahead.

Planners seeking inspiration for fitness-themed breaks need look no further than Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville, NY. Meeting planners who are interested in active breaks can utilize its Sky High Adventure Park, an aerial park and climbing forest with 13 different adventure courses comprising climbing walls, bridges, ladders, zip lines, and various other obstacles. Or, they can take advantage of kayaking and standup paddle boarding on nearby Spruce Lake, where groups can participate in lessons, races, or contests. Groups can even leverage the resort's partnership with Outdoor Fitness Fusion, a local company that provides outdoor group fitness activities on the resort's scenic trails. For an even more creative take on fitness, check out Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, TX, where groups can partake in aerial hammock yoga -- a fresh take on yoga that utilizes sling-like hammocks draped from the ceiling, which participants can use to flip, fly, and stretch in the air.